Temporal range: Late Cretaceous, 66 Ma
Polarornis is a genus of prehistoric bird, possibly a loon. It contains a single species Polarornis gregorii known from incomplete remains of one individual found on Seymour Island, Antarctica, in rocks which are dated to the Late Cretaceous (López de Bertodano Formation, about 66 mya).
The discovery of Polarornis gregorii was first announced by Sankar Chatterjee in 1989, but he did not describe and officially name the species until 2002. The name Polarornis had been announced unofficially several years prior to its official publication, in Chatterjee's 1997 book The Rise of Birds.
The relationships of this species are unclear. It is often claimed to be an ancestor of modern loons (divers), but some scientists have questioned this. Gerald Mayr, for example, noted that Polarornis differed from loons in some important characteristics, and criticized Chatterjee's original description of the fossils for overstating the specimen's completeness. Before the official description of the species, Alan Feduccia published an opinions casting doubt on its identification as a loon. However, other Mesozoic bird specialists, including Storrs Olson and Sylvia Hope, have supported the classification of Polarornis as an early member of the loon lineage.
Recent studies seem to vindicate its status as a stem-loon; alongside Neogaeornis and some unnamed antarctic spcimens, it seems to suggest a gondwannan origin for this clade, possibly displaced northwards by early penguins.
Polarornis was in all likelihood aquatic and fed on fish and large invertebrates, probably being an ecological equivalent of loons, grebes, or the Cretaceous Hesperornithes of the Northern Hemisphere. One analysis of the structure of the femur (TTU P 9265) showed that the bones were dense, rather than hollow and lightweight as in flying birds, suggesting that Polarornis was a flightless or near-flightless diving bird similar to hesperornithines and penguins.
- Chatterjee, S. (1989). "The oldest Antarctic bird." Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 8(3): 11A.
- Chatterjee, S. (2002). "The morphology and systematics of Polarornis, a Cretaceous loon (Aves: Gaviidae) from Antarctica." Pp. 125-155 in Zhou and Zhang (eds), Proceedings of the 5th Symposium of the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution, Beijing, 1–4 June 2000. Beijing: Science Press.
- Chatterjee, S. (1997). The Rise of Birds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Mayr, G. 2004. "A partial skeleton of a new fossil loon (Aves, Gaviiformes) from the early Oligocene of Germany with preserved stomach content." Journal of Ornithology 145: 281–286. doi:10.1007/s10336-004-0050-9 PDf fulltext
- Feduccia, A. (1999). The Origin and Evolution of Birds. 2nd edition. Yale University Press.
- Olson, S. (1992). "Neogaeornis wetzeli Lambrecht, a Cretaceous loon from Chile (Aves, Gaviidae)." Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 12(1): 122-124.
- Hope, S. (2002). "The Mesozoic radiation of Neornithes." Pp. 339-388 in Chiappe, L.M. and Witmer, L. (eds.), Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs.
- Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche, Javier N. Gelfo, New Antarctic findings of Upper Cretaceous and lower Eocene loons (Aves: Gaviiformes), Annales de Paléontologie Volume 101, Issue 4, October–December 2015, Pages 315–324
- Chinsamy, A., Martin, L.D. and Dobson, P. (1998). "Bone microstructure of the diving Hesperornis and the volant Ichthyornis from the Niobrara Chalk of western Kansas." Cretaceous Research, 19(2): 225-235. doi:10.1006/cres.1997.0102 (HTML abstract)
- Fain, Matthew G. & Houde, Peter (2004): Parallel radiations in the primary clades of birds. Evolution 58(11): 2558-2573. doi:10.1554/04-235 PMID 15612298 PDF fulltext
- Olson, Storrs L. (1985): The fossil record of birds. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 79-238. Academic Press, New York.